SA needs to find way to breed ac­cep­tance

Lesotho Times - - Leader - Mandy Wiener

THE re­cently un­veiled Coali­tion Agree­ment be­tween the seven par­ties that con­sti­tute gov­ern­ment has been a wel­come devel­op­ment to most Ba­sotho. If fol­lowed to its let­ter and spirit, its tenets prom­ise a pe­riod of po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity and peace fol­low­ing Le­sotho’s tu­mul­tuous first coali­tion gov­ern­ment.

How­ever, an­other area of con­tention loom­ing in the back­ground is the pos­si­ble re­in­state­ment of Lieu­tenant Gen­eral Tlali Kamoli to the helm of the Le­sotho De­fence Force (LDF).

In a re­cent in­ter­view with this news­pa­per, De­fence and Na­tional Se­cu­rity min­is­ter Tšeliso Mokhosi said his pri­or­ity was to en­sure Le­sotho be­comes a sta­ble coun­try once again through in­still­ing pro­fes­sion­al­ism and dis­ci­pline within the LDF and Le­sotho Mounted Po­lice Ser­vice (LMPS).

He vowed to bring to an end the in­ces­sant power-strug­gles be­tween the two agen­cies which brought this coun­try on the brink of civil war. Cu­ri­ously, Mr Mokhosi also de­clared that the rel­e­vant stake­hold­ers would look into Lt Gen Kamoli’s is­sue “from a legal per­spec­tive” so as to re­in­state him.

One won­ders if Mr Mokhosi’s ob­jec­tive to bring peace would be achiev­able if the re­in­state­ment is fol­lowed through. There re­mains some an­tag­o­nism be­tween mem­bers of the two agen­cies fol­low­ing the predawn raid of three key Maseru po­lice sta­tions on 30 Au­gust 2014 and the en­su­ing death of Sub-in­spec­tor Mokhe­seng Ramahloko.

For­mer LMPS As­sis­tant Com­mis­sioner Ma­supha Ma­supha re­marked last Novem­ber that some of­fi­cers were still trau­ma­tised by the raid and viewed their LDF col­leagues with sus­pi­cion.

This is over and above the scuf­fles be­tween mem­bers of the two agen­cies last year which ren­dered some vil­lages in Maseru vir­tual war zones. At the peak of the con­flict, mem­bers of the two agen­cies would even attack each other while walk­ing in the streets.

While the gov­ern­ment re­serves the right to hire and fire at their own bid­ding, there is no deny­ing that re­in­stat­ing Lt Gen Kamoli would be a con­tro­ver­sial move on their part es­pe­cially given the warn­ing made by the All Ba­sotho Con­ven­tion (ABC) and Ba­sotho Na­tional Party (BNP) that they would not would not “stand by and watch”.

Given the op­po­si­tion’s con­sid­er­able clout in the Na­tional As­sem­bly, they could very well throw span­ners in the coali­tion gov­ern­ment’s works, ren­der­ing the coun­try un­govern­able. The reap­point­ment would risk throw­ing away any re­main­ing good­will be­tween the gov­ern­ment and op­po­si­tion with brinkman­ship be­com­ing the or­der of the day.

Since some of the coali­tion part­ners have stated that Lt Gen Kamoli’s is­sue is yet to be dis­cussed and fi­nalised, we can only hope due dili­gence will be ap­plied in the in­evitable con­sul­ta­tion to en­sure this na­tion fi­nally moves on.

Far from an­other po­lit­i­cal stale­mate be­tween gov­ern­ment and the op­po­si­tion, Ba­sotho want to see the ex­pe­di­tious im­prove­ment of their ma­te­rial con­di­tions.

In­deed, the na­tion awaits to see the fruition of the coali­tion gov­ern­ment’s stated ob­jec­tives to grow the econ­omy through in­sti­tu­tional re­forms, ef­fec­tive use of nat­u­ral re­sources and in­fra­struc­ture devel­op­ment.

The Coali­tion Agree­ment also states that the plight of the poor and those living in vil­lages would be the first pri­or­ity of the gov­ern­ment.

How­ever, as clearly shown by the grid­lock which characterised gov­ern­ment op­er­a­tions last year, the coali­tion can­not at­tain its de­vel­op­men­tal ob­jec­tives with­out the tacit co­op­er­a­tion of the op­po­si­tion block.

Prime Min­is­ter Pakalitha Mo­sisili al­ready has enough on his plate guiding a seven-party coali­tion and restor­ing Le­sotho to “its for­mer glory”, as he promised dur­ing the cam­paign pe­riod, than to be sad­dled by re­newed in­sta­bil­ity in the se­cu­rity sec­tor.

The gov­ern­ment is also faced with a four-month Le­sotho Cor­rec­tional Ser­vices go-slow with the warders telling our sis­ter pa­per, Sun­day Ex­press, they would in­ten­sify their industrial ac­tion un­til their griev­ances are ad­dressed.

Ul­ti­mately, no one ap­point­ment is worth the furore that is bound to en­sue if Lt Gen Kamoli comes back to the LDF. IT is an in­deli­ble mem­ory, stored amongst the cat­a­logues of rec­ol­lec­tions of a jour­nal­ist out in the field: A bit­ing cold High­veld morn­ing, the air thick with the smell of mbaula drum fires and the mist hang­ing low on the East Rand mine dumps.

What burns bright­est in that im­age filed for­ever in my mem­ory is the sight of three semi-naked bod­ies sprawled in a mielie field next to a hos­tel, their heads cleaved open.

One, vaguely dis­cern­able as a woman, lay face down with her jeans pulled be­low her but­tocks and her shirt crum­pled up, the dirt along­side her wet with ruby red blood.

Less than a me­tre away, an emer­gency ser­vice of­fi­cial worked to set up a drip on an ap­par­ently life­less man, while a po­lice of­fi­cer with a shot­gun slung across his back held the bag up with a raised arm. Who knows how long they had been there, wait­ing to die?

It was the nadir of the wave of xeno­pho­bic vi­o­lence that rolled through South Africa in 2008 and I had been sta­tioned in the Ramaphosa town­ship, a hot­bed of at­tacks.

Just days be­fore this in­ci­dent, pho­tog­ra­phers there had cap­tured the gutwrench­ing im­age of Mozam­bi­can Ernesto Nhamuave be­ing burnt alive and the pic­ture would be­come the por­trait of that shame­ful time in South Africa’s his­tory.

Dur­ing the week I spent re­port­ing on the vi­o­lence, along with a bat­tal­ion of lo­cal and for­eign jour­nal­ists, we wit­nessed scenes that were etched into our col­lec­tive mem­o­ries.

We stum­bled upon for­eign­ers in shacks, cling­ing to life af­ter be­ing at­tacked, and car­ried them on mat­tresses to wait­ing paramedics on the out­skirts of the town­ship.

We saw liveli­hoods de­stroyed as con­tain­ers hous­ing spaza shops went up in flames or were sent rolling down pot­holed roads like soc­cer balls.

We in­ter­viewed im­pas­sioned young men clutch­ing axes, sticks and pan­gas and lis­tened as they ex­plained why they were chas­ing the mak­w­erek­were (a deroga­tory term for for­eign­ers) away from their neigh­bour­hoods.

In im­promptu ‘ refugee camps’ set up in po­lice sta­tions, churches and fields, we watched moth­ers com­fort chil­dren, try­ing to ex­plain to them why they had been forced to flee their homes, hav­ing al­ready spent life­times flee­ing war and un­cer­tainty in the hope of new be­gin­nings.

It took long, far too long, for gov­ern­ment to act in 2008. But fi­nally Pres­i­dent Thabo Mbeki spoke, of­fer­ing re­morse and an apol­ogy “with heads bowed in shame be- cause it has seemed that what hap­pened in our coun­try in May be­trayed the dreams of many gen­er­a­tions, in­clud­ing our own”.

The army was de­ployed and the vi­o­lence quelled. There were ex­cuses of a ‘crim­i­nal el­e­ment’ be­ing re­spon­si­ble, sug­ges­tions that the vi­o­lence was in­sti­gated by a ‘third hand’ with a po­lit­i­cal agenda and that there were fi­nan­cial in­cen­tives.

There were aca­demic stud­ies and in­ves­ti­ga­tions by non-gov­ern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions, task teams were set up and rec­om­men­da­tions were made.

Then South Africa put the xeno­pho­bic at­tacks in a box, put on the lid, and moved on.

But the prob­lem has been bub­bling on, per­co­lat­ing in town­ships and in­for­mal set­tle­ments across the coun­try and we would be fools to think oth­er­wise.

This is ev­i­dent from the iso­lated in­ci­dents re­ported in the me­dia of So­mali shop­keep­ers be­ing stoned to death and of their shops be­ing looted by an­gry mobs as in­ef­fec­tive po­lice of­fi­cers stood by idly.

The true ex­tent of the per­sonal fear and ter­ror is best il­lus­trated in Jonny Stein­berg’s A Man of Good Hope, a re­veal­ing ac­count of So­mali shop­keeper Asad Ab­dul­lahi.

It feels as though it has been Ab­dul­lahi’s face star­ing at me each time this week that TV news in­serts have shown So­mali shop­keep­ers in Kwazulu-natal des­per­ately try­ing to res­cue their pro­duce from ram­pag­ing mobs.

This week the sim­mer­ing has boiled over yet again. For­eign-owned shops have been tar­geted, at least five peo­ple have been killed, fam­i­lies have been chased from their homes and cars have been set alight.

The politi­cians have rolled in, con­demn­ing the vi­o­lence. They’ve de­bated over se­man­tics and whether it is tech­ni­cally ‘xeno­pho­bia’ or rather ‘Afro­pho­bia’. Crim­i­nal el­e­ments have again been blamed.

A peace march has even been planned. They are hop­ing to con­tain the sit­u­a­tion within Kwazulu-natal in the hope that it does not spread.

But we know that it takes just one spark to light the tin­der­box, par­tic­u­larly if it has been left to sim­mer for far too long.

It doesn’t help for politi­cians to step up only when ten­sions are high and there is pres­sure. They should have been pro­vid­ing lead­er­ship within com­mu­ni­ties over the past seven years, work­ing to change the so­cial con­structs and re­shap­ing opin­ions on for­eign­ers.

We need to find a way to breed ac­cep­tance and co-op­er­a­tion within our com­mu­ni­ties and to quell the re­sent­ment and jeal­ousy. If we don’t, the sit­u­a­tion will con­tinue to boil over time and time again.

We have more than enough in­deli­ble images of vi­o­lent at­tacks on for­eign­ers filed away in our mem­ory banks. I know I do. And I don’t want to see any more.

Wiener is a free­lance jour­nal­ist.

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